A nation of leaders sans leadership

A nation of leaders sans leadership

Are the Cong and the BJP not confident of their own second line or do they fear power struggle from within?

Recent developments in the AgustaWestland chopper deal pointing an accusing finger at the top Congress leaders, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s allegations against Prime Minister Narendra Modi about faking his degree, and almost daily revelations of crime, corruption and callousness of elected representatives have put all stakeholders of democracy in an awkward situation.

Many supporters of democracy remember with disbelief that India had once leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Vallabhbhai Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Jayaprakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia etc.  Though we have a plethora of leaders, we may slowly be heading towards a leadership crisis.

An impression is being created that leaders lack leadership skills and are unable to provide an honest representation to people. While people have faith in democracy, they are losing confidence in their leaders and representatives. The malady is present at all levels, and is rampant across all political parties.

The Congress and the BJP are the only national parties having an all-India presence. They may not admit to it, but both suffer from the same affliction. The Congress is the GOP (grand old party) of India but the development of the high-command culture, that too in the context of 17 years of party dominance at both national and provincial scenes (1950-1967), has completely destroyed the possibility of democratising intra-party structures and functions. Isn’t it unfortunate that even after 68 years of independence, the Congress continues to depend heavily on just one family for leadership?

Even in the states, the Congress units look up to the Gandhis for patronage. As a result, those with real clout having a mass base are often sidelined and the ones loyal to them assume leadership. This virtual harakiri the party continues to commit has led to loss of power state-by-state. It has not only lost leaders, but also given an opportunity to parochial regional forces to displace itself almost permanently. Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in the north, West Bengal in the east and Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh in the south are some examples.

Rahul Gandhi is in line for the existing leadership position in the Congress. But, do partymen really have the confidence that he will provide them, and the country, the kind of leadership that would be demanded of him? If a TV interview of Rahul during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections is any indication, at least, people have no doubts about his capability, comprehension and political acumen.

The same is true of the Congress leadership in states. While there is no dearth of good and capable leaders in the party, th-ere is no desire to let them come up and make independent, pro-people base in their respective states for fear that they might become real power centres with potential to challenge the high command. This line of thinking has flooded the Congress with leaders of sycophantic variety who serve neither the party and its leadership nor the people.

Under RSS patronage
The BJP is no exception. Despite fact that the party has a collective leadership, its open confession to seek guidance and blessings from the RSS has always put question mark over its ability to take independent decisions. The BJP leadership in the states is also under the patronage of the RSS. The only difference is that while the Gandhi family is part of the Congress, the RSS is not a part of the BJP; it considers itself extraneous and a cultural outfit.

With Modi becoming the PM, a new paradigm shift has taken place in the leadership structure of the BJP. Before him, the party had a collective leadership. During election campaigns, we would hear many BJP leaders actively canvassing for the party. But, Modi conducted his campaign single-handedly to everyone’s surprise and won a clear majority – a feat attained by any party in India after 30 years!

Since then, the party has silently marginalised all stalwarts, and treated even such leaders as Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj as chief executives of their respective departments rather than as a dynamic component of party leadership.

The BJP may boast of being a cadre-based party, but why can it not promote and project clear leadership in the states? That would help the party take on regional outfits and also assist the voters in forming an opinion so that at the next hustling they are in no doubt who will lead the party in power.

Recent attempt by the party to project clear leaders in Assam, West Bengal and Kerala is a good beginning, but its refusal to do so in UP – a crucial state going to polls early 2017 – is not intelligible. The era of faceless elections is over. People now demand their leaders beforehand.

Why are the Congress and BJP shy of taking a clear and bold stand on this? Are they themselves not confident of their own second line or do they fear power-struggle within the party on federal lines?

Democratisation of party structure and dispersal of leadership could regenerate people’s confidence in their leaders, political parties and democracy and may become examples for other regional and marginal political players to emulate. While all parties have the right to take a short term view of their electoral fortunes, they must also acquire the wisdom of a long-term strategy of power politics.             

(The writer is Chair, Department of Political Science, Christ Church College, Kanpur)